New technology is increasingly driving emerging markets risk, according to a new report by Willis Towers Watson. The latest edition of the company’s Political Risk Index assesses the impact of new technologies – particularly social media – on emerging market politics.
According to the report, social media has made activist politics more effective and empowered social groups that have traditionally shied away from political activism due to social discrimination or geographical dispersion.
“There is an important myth to dispel – that China doesn’t have politics,” said Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Oxford. “In fact, social media is a major interaction point for popular opinion in China, and hundreds of thousands or even millions of people will participate in conversations on controversial social issues.”
“Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising specifically, social media have come to play a very important political role across developing and developed economies,” said Dr. Megha Kumar, deputy director of analysis at Oxford Analytica. “That role ranges from, at one extreme, efforts to incite political violence, to the use for which they were intended – namely, communication.”
According to the report, “flash mob” protests, organized in part using mobile devices, played a role in toppling governments in the Philippines in 2001, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004-5, Kyrgyzstan in 2005, and Thailand in 2006. A more recent example was the 2019 ouster of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Online pressure campaigns in 2021 contributed to government policy changes in countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Israel and Nigeria, Willis Towers Watson said.
Samuel Wilkin, director of political risk analytics, financial solutions at Willis Towers Watson, said that the insurance industry had been caught off guard by some of the political impacts of new technology.
“Hashtag-enabled protest movements have evolved with extraordinary speed and scale, leading to property damage at a level that we usually don’t associate with social unrest,” Wilkin said.